Len Fehskens – In Memoriam

We clashed. Often. With gusto. Gleefully. Joyfully. Even horribly, at times. But boy, was it worth it!

Len Fehskens, via Open Group

This week I was much saddened to hear, via Andrew Josey and the Open Group blog, of the passing of two of their most stalwart members, John Spencer and Len Fehskens.

I knew John a little, though not well: we never worked together as such. We met a few times at Open Group conferences, but that was about it. To me he seemed calm and calming, quietly courteous, always listening carefully, respectfully, even to a half-crazy guy like me. Easy to like; easy to respect; a good man.

Yet Len – ah, Len! 🙂

The very best kind of colleague – the kind who pushes hard and won’t let go. The kind who pushes hard to make the work that bit better every time. The best sparring-partner I could have had.

We first met around a decade ago, at some Open Group conference – perhaps Paris, perhaps Lisbon, I can’t remember which. Certainly we’d talked enough by late 2008 to make worthwhile a one-day dash over to Munich to hear Len and Walter Stahlecker to present on extending enterprise-architecture beyond IT:

The conventional wisdom is rapidly becoming that Enterprise Architecture is more than Enterprise IT Architecture. …

To address the architectures of things outside the domain of IT, we need a concept of architecture that is not technological, and that is expressed in nontechnical language.

That turned out to be prescient, yes, but alas, it also turned out to be way too premature. Even now, almost a full decade later, mainstream ‘enterprise’-architecture still hasn’t gotten anywhere near breaking out of the IT-centric box. Oh well.

From then on, though, he and I sparred often, about every aspect of enterprise-architecture, for both us always with the aim of pushing the field onward as far and as well as we could.

So yes, we clashed. Lots. You’ll see a lot of that in the comments-sections on this blog, and even in the ‘Conversation with…’ sort-of-interview / sort-of-shared-biography that he did with me for the Journal Association of Enterprise Architects. We had a lot of fun with that.

Passionate? Yep, sure. No doubt about that. Lots. Both of us. A lot of fun with that, too, though I’ll admit that the passion did boil over a bit too much at times – more from my side than his, I’ll also admit. Our biggest clash was about the role of the Open Group in enterprise-architecture: I believed – and largely still do – that Open Group, and TOGAF in particular, have caused enormous, permanent and possibly irreparable damage to the profession of enterprise-architecture, whereas in his role as Open Group’s VP of Skills and Capabilities, Len was more than duty-bound to protect them. Our interactions got more than a bit testy over that for a while. My fault, mostly. Oh well.

Over the past year, though, we’d got it back on keel – we were back to quieter challenges, about terminologies, about fractality, about pushing the field onward again. That was good – very good.

Then a month or two ago I’d mildly noted that he’d stopped replying back. I thought nothing of it – it’d happened before, some distraction or other, he’d be back again soon enough, no doubt. But then this week, the realisation that he wouldn’t. Be back. Not any more.


That’s a loss that hurts…

Hurts all of us, in enterprise-architecture and beyond.

I’ll miss Len, a lot. His demands for precision and rigour, even in the midst of inherent-uncertainty, were the best help I could ever have had: if my work is useful in enterprise-architecture, that’s due in no small part to him.

Yet ‘missing someone’ seems too selfish, somehow. What we might do instead is celebrate what he did, how much he cared. Which he did. They both did – both Len and John.

So thank you: many thanks to both for the gifts of their presence and lives, and my best regards and thanks to their families and friends.

Go well, good friend.

9 Comments on “Len Fehskens – In Memoriam

  1. The key thing about Len is his engineering discipline applied to thinking about the subject of enterprise. His expansive view of what constitute ‘enterprise’, and ways to think about them, has been a big part of the life force of the EA discipline. Thankfully, we have the library of his excellent work.

  2. … but sadly no longer have his sharp mind to prod and poke us further beyond the limitations of our present mental models that we might have formed from this library and other sources.

    I am extremely grateful for my encounters with Len and for what I have learned from him …

  3. Len and I were a team flying model rockets pretty seriously back in the early 70s. He had a time sharing (teletype) console in the rented house with a bunch of MIT types. We used to take turns cooking dinner. (I think his cookbook collection encouraged my early interest in serious cooking). On his turn we always wondered if we would get the dinner before the Jack Daniels got him. He always came through (not really that much of a drinker). His big moment of shame — he was into photography — was when he accidently sent the plastic film can holder with guage in it to Kodak for development. He didn’t bother to tell us, so no defensive measures were possible. Kodak sent back the can sealed with tape that said something like film, do not open. He was the first MIT almost B.S. to major in computer science — made up the major himself, and then didn’t bother to write up the computer he built for his degree as the job op was too good. I have had some pleasant communications with him in recent years. I just found out about his death. Trip Barber wanted to invite him to a model rocket reunion.

    • Great story, Bernard – many thanks for that. (I was seriously into amateur astronomy at one point, and was good friends with one of the ex-Peenemunde guys who arranged for a piece of moon-rock to be brought to our college – but that still pales by comparison with you guys doing rocketry for real! 🙂 )

    • Thank you Bernard, Tom, Doug and Peter for sharing your thoughts on Len. Len was my brother and though his sudden passing has been quite a shock, I find it gratifying to know he touched so many others. All of your comments bring a smile as they describe him perfectly.

      I am working with the National Association of Rocketry to establish a scholarship fund in his name for those heading to college in the aerospace engineering or technology field. I am also putting together a tribute and exhibit about Len that will be displayed at this years NARAM 60 in CO in August. I hope to include photos, comments from colleagues, some of Len’s model rockets as well as some of his hand notes, formulas and rocket design sketches that I saved from his belongings. If anyone has something to contribute, I would be grateful. Bernard if you have any old photos from those early days of rocketry I would appreciate copies.

      Thank you all again for posting your comments about Len. He is sadly missed.

      I can be reached direct at strwvr@gmail.com

  4. Lenny Feshkens. “Furpuss” when we were 8. Lenny was my first best friend, we went to school together at Glenbrook School in the early 1950’s. I realized he was exceptional early. He spoke of things i didn’t quite get, I realized much later he thought of distributed processing long ago before there were processors, or not that we knew of in 1956. We lost contact over the years, I was shocked to learn of Len’s passing. How could Lenny be dead? We’re still kids.

    • Many thanks for that, Ken – important, and very true in my experience too.

      On “How could Lenny be dead? We’re still kids.” – yeah, I know the feeling. Too often, these days. Oh well.

      Thanks again, anyway.

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